There is no democracy without a free press

Today, hundreds of newspapers across the country are publishing editorials to fight back against repeated attacks on the media. The brainchild of The Boston Globe, newspapers were asked to publish their own editorials that highlight the dangers of the assault on the press.

The Society of Professional Journalists stands in solidarity with these newspapers and applauds their efforts to explain the importance of the work they do every day. We know that without them, the country would be a much darker, more secretive place.

After all, it’s journalists who uncover stories of children being abused by people in positions of authority; of drinking water being contaminated because regulations and laws weren’t followed; of the misuse of money and power by government officials and agencies.

Freedom of the press was included in the writing of the First Amendment for good reason. Our founding fathers knew that it is human nature for those in positions of power to sometimes abuse that power. For democracy to thrive, they believed it was important to ensure there would always be a watchdog – the press – to maintain balance and, when needed, protect citizens from their own government by helping them obtain information. (As the Washington Post tagline states: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”)

Journalism is a public service. Journalism is done for the public good. We’re taught as journalists to show the story, not tell the story. The best way to show the public that we are not “the enemy” is by telling accurate, fair, truthful stories. By showing that we care about the people and communities we cover. By acting ethically at all times.

But while a majority of journalists do just that, they remain at risk. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 27 journalists have been attacked so far in the United States in 2018. Worldwide, according to Reporters Without Borders, 50 journalists, 10 citizen journalists and 3 media assistants have been killed in 2018.

Journalists should not have to consider hiring security guards to accompany them to political rallies. Journalists in every city and town across America should not worry for their safety every time they go out to cover a story.

A segment of the American public is clearly angry about what they describe as “fake news” or too much opinion and not enough facts. Journalists don’t understand why the average citizen struggles to tell the differences among news, opinion, commentary and analysis, or to realize that not every journalist produces each kind of journalism.

The United Nations Human Rights Chief said earlier this week the numbers of incidences of violence and death against journalists will increase worldwide if the rhetoric does not stop. Other countries look to the United States to set the precedent, he said, adding that, “The U.S. creates a demonstration effect, which then is picked up by other countries where the leadership tends to be more authoritarian [in] character or aspires to be authoritarian.”

No profession is perfect. Journalism is no exception. But a United States without a free press is not a place most Americans would want to live. Simply put, there is no democracy without a free press.


Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.


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